San Jose increases fireworks fines before New Year's Eve

Ahead of New Year’s Eve on Thursday, Bay Area law enforcement agencies are reminding everyone fireworks are illegal and dangerous. The city of San Jose doubled the fines for those caught firing off fireworks.

Starting this month, a person can be fined $1,000 for a first offense in the Bay Area’s largest city. Fire officials said the illegal firework activity that occurred back on July 4 was unprecedented and they suspect the pandemic had something to do it.

The big New Year’s Eve fireworks show, witnessed by thousands on San Francisco’s Embarcadero is not happening this year, cancelled due to the pandemic. In fact, there has not been word of any sanctioned fireworks shows leaving many to wonder will people start their own?

"Absolutely, the absence of having those professional fireworks shows we do believe has contributed to the use of illegal fireworks in the community," said San Jose Fire Department Spokeswoman Erica Ray.

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Ray said the city logged more than 6,600 complaints of illegal fireworks back on July 4, three times more than the previous year. The fire department responded to 54 fires.

"We had trouble covering all the emergency calls across the city," said Ray.

"With people getting stuck at home and in quarantine, I think people are looking for excuses to come outdoors," said Lt. Cuong Phan of Santa Clara Police.

Law enforcement expects a busy holiday. San Jose resident Jeff Levine documents fireworks in his neighborhood. Security cameras captured illegal activity last week.

"We’re in the middle of a dense urban situation," said Levine. "It just doesn’t make any sense to fire these things off."

It’s not just concerns of harm to the person igniting the firework but concerns of fires, veterans with PTSD and pets.

"New Year’s Eve is my second most unfavorite holiday," said Suzanne Morrone of San Jose.

Morrone’s least favorite holiday is the Fourth of July. Morrone has a husband with PTSD and several dogs.

"The dogs are terrified, they are shaking," said Morrone. "It’s traumatic and abusive to all animals."

Firework fines in San Jose got steeper in December. It’s $1,000 for a first offense up from $500. It’s $2,000 for the second offense. The fine used to be $700. It’s $3,000 for the third violation up from $1,000.

"Hopefully people are going to get the idea that it's not only dangerous but it's quite expensive if you get caught," said Levine.

San Jose residents can report firework activity to the city’s online reporting tool. A picture or video evidence is highly recommended, officials said.

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